From behind the counter of The Pit Stop in Merrick, Tony Rubano dispenses good cheer, lively conversation and delicious fare. It would, in fact, be a disservice to call the hearty soups, inventive wraps and salads and juicy burgers offered at this renovated Carvel shop "fast food." For while it's true that you won't have to wait long for your order to be filled, it's also evident that much time and care have gone into everything served.
Soups featured here are the same as those Rubano offers at Cucina Bay, the upscale waterfront Merrick restaurant he and his wife, Carolyn, also own. The creamy, herbal New England clam chowder, which, like all soups here, comes in a paper carton, contains a profusion of fresh clams. Potato leek soup is another lush treat. I thought the robust chicken gumbo very good, although not quite Cajun-spicy.
If you order the crab cake po' boy, know that the fine Japanese bread crumb-coated cakes are made with lots of jumbo lump crab meat, no bread filler. The veggie burger is house-made and wonderful, dotted with lots of bright, fresh vegetables. I ordered a hamburger one day, and was pleased that it was bigger and juicier than most fast-food burgers. An "all the way" burger -- two 4-ouncers with ketchup, pickle, lettuce, tomato, fried onions, bacon, cheese and coleslaw -- satisfied only part of the way because the meat was too well- done. Fries are homemade, and if they tend to be a trifle greasy at times, they're still irresistible. Sweet potato fries can be a bit soggy; ask to have yours crisp.
Salads are made with fresh greens and vibrant vegetables. A Cobb salad -- topped with chicken, crumbled bacon, Gorgonzola, avocado, hard- cooked eggs and deep-red tomatoes -- succeeded. I admired the color and creativity of the shrimp and scallop salad, warm seafood kebabs on wood skewers, over fresh beets and cubed butternut squash and greens, raspberry vinaigrette on the side. The problem was that the ingredients just didn't meld.
It is with wraps that Rubano goes to town. One of my favorites is the sprightly grilled shrimp, mango salsa and black beans. I .relished a surprising combo of roast turkey, mashed yams, Gorgonzola and avocado that worked well. So did the skirt steak wrap with grilled onions, greens and Gorgonzola. Grilled salmon with steamed vegetables and cucumber-dill dressing missed because the fish was overcooked. I'll request it less well-done next time.
I'll also be sure to sample the soft-serve ice cream, which Rubano says is high in butterfat content (more calories but also more richness and flavor). I did get to enjoy the chewy house-made chocolate chip cookies studded with big chunks of chocolate.
Those living in Merrick, Freeport and Bellmore might want to know that Rubano says the restaurant delivers.
And in more ways than one, I'd venture to add. --Reviewed by Joan Reminick
Hot dogs: The hot dog at this friendly roadside eatery is just a Sabrett grilled on a roller. Sometimes, that's all you need. Have yours plain or with chili and cheese. $2.25 to $3.75